Pilots make themselves at home in Tucumcari

By Ryan Lengerich

Standing on the wing of a TBM Avenger Navy Bomber, Bob Thompson explained the plane’s history to one wide-eyed child after another.

Thompson, a Colonel with the Commemorative Airforce, flew the aircraft into to Tucumcari Tuesday for display at the Rotary Club Air Show as he has done several years past. He calls himself a teacher and travels the air show circuit showing off the vintage aircraft. Among all his stops he considers the Tucumcari show a favorite for himself and the organization.

“We just love this community,” Thompson said. “We do a lot of shows, a lot of big shows all throughout the country that have a gate of a couple hundred-thousand people, but they don’t have the heart that people here do.”

Based on attendance, the Rotary Club Air Show is one of the smallest on circuit. By talent standards, the air show is more than competitive. This weekend’s 11th annual show featured returning pilots as well as fresh new acts.
Eric Beard is a veteran at the Tucumcari show, after his performance ended he signed autographs for line of children.

“This is a great show,” Beard said. “What a fantastic place to be, that is why we like coming here every year because of the hospitality and the enthusiasm in the community.”

Each of the pilots are provided an automobile and various functions are held throughout the week for organizers, pilots and other members of the community.

Greg Peterson and Nadim AbuHaidar brought their Extra Edge Air Show to Tucucmari for the first time. In the performance, Peterson, flying the Extra 300L and AbuHaidar in the Edge 540 coordinated their stunts, often crossing each other close enough that at ground level it appears a disaster was narrowly avoided.

The two business partners are part owners of OK3AIR, an aviation company in Salt Lake City. AbuHaidar, a graduate of George Washington University and Peterson, a business degree holder from Indiana University, fly in air shows to promote their business, not to make a living. They said the mid-week air shows are tough to attend because of their work schedules, but they were impressed with the event.

“The people that put it on are really very nice and it’s actually very professionally run,” Peterson said. “The people here are really nice people, so it is a nice show to come to.”

The loudest jet at the show was the F-18, which closed the show as part of the Navy Legacy Flight. The top-line fighter jet had the announcer warning the kids to hold their ears as it prepared to pass over the crowd. After the jet landed, pilot Mike DePalma signed autographs and posed for pictures. The Manhattan, N.Y. native was visiting Tucumcari for the first time, he said he cruised Route 66 Tuesday night.

“I like the town, it is interesting to say the least,” he said. “I would recommend it to my buddies who take over for me, it is a great time and people here are very down to earth.”